On Smoking Bans

There are many arguments against smoking bans, many steeped in the libertarian idea of “personal freedom”. However, given smoking’s unique gestalt, examination of these arguments fall to their own fallacious reasoning. Let’s examine a few, and try to get to what’s at the heart of this argument.

First off, smoking is harmful not only to the smoker, but to those who must live and work in environments affected by smokers and their, uh, excretions. Presenting this as an industrial choice, should we also let business owners decide if they use asbestos or lead paint? Should we allow dumping of waste into drinking water? Should business owners decide if they can pump carcinogens into the air? Should we let business owners decide if they want to follow safety regulations? Should we allow buildings and roadways to be built out of the cheapest stuff the contractors can find?


We have a host of regulations in this vein for a reason. The same sense of entitlement that lets people think that their right to get cancer extends to the right to give everyone cancer, with no compunction about holding food and entertainment hostage while making their faux libertarian argument, is the one that fits our populations complete inability to look beyond their own perspective into the rights of others. One person’s “right” to smoke can affect the right of an entire club NOT to smell like the ass end of a tire fire, mind you, so right off the bat you can see how unequal this is.


Whenever someone starts screaming “freedom!” in America lately, it’s usually with a blind eye to those who’s freedoms are impinged. In this case, it’s servers and restaurant/club staff who have to spend 8+ hours in a hazardous environment. Now, the argument “but they choose to work there” is an empty one – more than one legal case has been made against this reasoning. Again, look at legislation for limiting worker exposure to other dangerous environments or chemicals. But we have turned a blind eye to servers, bartenders, even musicians having to spend working hours in a carcinogenic environment. The “choice” between starving homelessness now or cancer, emphysema, or heart disease later isn’t really a “choice”. is it?


If we can’t ask workers to work in a building filled with asbestos, or lead paint, or in other hazardous environments, then we cannot ask the service industry to do so.
People love to support their own right to do whatever they want, a large part of why we’re a crumbling nation of whinging five year olds. In this particular case, if you don’t care enough about yourself to quit smoking, you probably aren’t going to give that much of a fuck about the consequences to others. Smoking itself is a perfect example of a choice made against one’s self interest in order to reinforce one’s self image.


As to the case of giving owners a choice and letting the “free market” decide, well, if we’ve learned NOTHING over the last few years, it’s that the “free market” assumes people are “rational actors” not “fucking douchebags”, and that the “free market” can’t tell between a fine, handcrafted Prada handbag and a well marketed bull scrotum. It then forces choices NOT based on the viability of smoking as an economic force, but on all the extraneous factors that go into making larger choices – am I going to abandon my smoker friends because I don’t smoke? If a band I like plays a smoking club, am I going to miss them just to avoid smoke? If I make these choices, am I really supporting smoking as an “economic choice”, or am I being forced to endure a social irritant and health hazard in order to make the choice I REALLY want to make? My supposed “choice” isn’t really one at all.

The larger fallacy of “choice” comes into play here, the difference between an active choice and a passive one, and the (mistaken) idea that they are the same. Smoking is an active choice. One must choose to be an active participant to begin with. Being a non-smoker is not a choice in this same way – in the way abstinence is not a sexual position (tho it may be a position on sex). Choosing to smoke AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT is a choice, IF you’re a smoker, and have actively chosen to smoke or not at any given moment. THAT’S your choice. I’m not choosing not to sky dive at this moment, because I don’t actively participate in sky diving. If I have a chute on, I’m making an active choice whether or not to use it. However, if I reach over and push someone who is NOT wearing a chute out of the plane, is it fair to punish them for going for an airplane ride? THIS is the choice smokers would ask us to allow.

Look, I view it like masturbation – I don’t want to outlaw it, but I don’t want you to do it where I’m eating, and I certainly don’t want you to get anything on me. “Freedom of” must be balanced with “freedom from”, and this notion of smoking as an inalienable right that must have no restrictions or infringements it is the height of hubris. In the real world, there are consequences. These are people’s lives. I can’t say smoking or working in clubs had anything to do with a recent friend’s death of lung cancer, but I can tell you that the idea of more friends who work in the service industry facing what he and his family, his loved ones endured is in itself a weighty argument.

So this is where we end up – with perspective. Smoking itself is a habit unlike any other. Illegal drugs at least get you high, and many were originally developed for medicinal purposes. Alcohol has actual beneficial properties in moderation. Smoking has always been marketed in modern times as a fashion accessory. It’s appeal is purely egotistical, at least until the addiction itself takes hold. It has no beneficial effects at all, yet it gets morally equated with these things, even other socially controversial topics such as breastfeeding. It’s not, tho. The World Health Organization(WHO) reports it to be the leading preventable cause of death worldwide and estimates that it currently causes 5.4 million deaths per year. How many of those are people who are having the “choice” to smoke thrust upon them? To say nothing about the health care costs, lost productivity, and disability claims that we ALL share as both taxpayers AND consumers as a consequence of “your choice” to smoke.

We all know smoking is bad for you. If you choose to put that particular gun to your head, go nuts. If you’re selfish enough to inflict your self destruction on your roommates, your family, even kids living in your home, well, there is certainly precedent for preserving your “right” to do so. However, the issue here is the idea that smokers somehow have the “right” to push that choice on the public at large.Hey, smell alone should make this a no brainer – make the case as to why people should be allowed to shit on the floor in bars. I dare ya.

So here it is in proper perspective: to think that one’s right to look cool while sucking down foul smelling carcinogens is worth befouling the air of your fellow citizens, making the places we congregate into hazy, noxious hellholes is an abominable argument of massive self entitlement. To also condemn servers, bartenders, door persons, entertainers, casino personnel, stagehands, roadies, burlesque performers, lounge singers, etc etc etc to lives shortened by their need to make a living just so that people can make a poor decision about their health in public is an absurdity beyond the range of arrogance.

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